The performances and films of Gail Pickering (lives in London) often feature abstracted physical movement, a choreography around which the artist layers historical, political and aesthetic associations. Working with professional and non-professional actors and performers, Pickering frames tableaux vivants wherein action occurs not to produce a closed narrative but as part of a social ritual without climax.
In earlier work such as PRADAL (2004), the artist's performances – set amid simplified architectural structures and semi-fantastical landscapes – occurred within a gallery during the course of an exhibition. The repeated and somewhat demoralised physical gestures, undertaken by solitary performers, emphasised a contract of daily labour struck with the artist; a labour that often hinted at radical actions such as bomb-making and trade-union protest. Pickering has likened these performance works to "open film sets where the viewer experiences the scene in its entirety". Yet her recent use of film and video enables both a restriction on what is viewed, and the revelation of a wider context beyond the single scene.
Hungary! And Other Economies (2006) is a film composed of scenes played out by four porn actors, primarily in the crumbling ruins of the Marquis de Sade's former chateau in the south of France, which is now owned by Pierre Cardin. The actors – dressed in Cardin-inspired retro-futuristic costumes – read sections of Peter Weiss' play Marat/Sade (1963). While some sequences in the film are directed with a cinematic eye for composition and melodrama, Pickering also documents the readthroughs of the actors as they travel to the site, blending the play's grisly descriptions of the French Revolution with a playful eroticism. She also depicts the players' boredom as they wait around at the end of the shoot, moments wherein their 'true' personalities might be supposed to emerge – but in which their actions revert to a porn lexicon.
In Hungary! Pickering elaborates on the different layers of agency through which the contract between her and her performers is fulfilled. The artist creates a structural and contextual framework around her actors, but the latter also create their own fusion of performance, posture and parody. The extreme and occasionally humorous confusion of positions in this piece, which originates from the overlaying of site and texts, create a new set of relations. The latter are fixed in a physical economy of performance and sexuality, one reduced to a state of latency and manifesting unconsummated radical potential.
The use of site as an associative junction is key to Pickering's Nought to Sixty project, at the core of which is a video work titled Brutalist Premolition (2008). The latter was shot in Robin Hood Gardens, an East London housing estate designed in the late 1960s by the New Brutalist architects Alison and Peter Smithson. Pickering worked with a group of tenants within their homes, asking them to cast professional actors to play the residents in a folk play. Brutalist Premolition addresses the dream and reality of an architectural movement, weaving lived experience into the language of a socio-political essay, and utilising the artist's characteristic layers of scripting, casting and performing. It is the ultimate ambiguity of this approach that allows for a sense of unresolved representation, and the formation of new social narratives through the processes of performance.